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House Committee Passes Biofuels Infrastructure RD&D Bill

The House Committee on Science and Technology has passed H.R. 547, the Advanced Fuels Infrastructure Research and Development Act.

The bill initiates a research, development and demonstration (RD&D) program to make biofuels more compatible with present-day infrastructure. H.R. 547 also directs agencies to develop technologies and methods to provide low-cost, portable and accurate measurements of sulfur in fuels, and to develop a physical properties database and Standards Reference Materials for biofuels.

...if our country is serious about reducing our dependence on foreign oil, we need to get serious about mobilizing the infrastructure necessary to distribute and dispense alternative fuels.

—Bart Gordon (D-TN), Chairman

We can have all the biofuels to supply every car in our nation, but if the infrastructure is not in place to move the fuels to where they are needed, then it doesn’t help us. Further, if the government is going to mandate that retailers sell Ultra Low Sulfur Diesel fuel, then there should be an affordable means to ensure that the fuel being sold fits those requirements.

—Ralph Hall (R-TX), Ranking Member

Among the changes incorporated during the mark-up session on the bill were making the EPA Office of Research and Development the lead agency conducting the R&D and adding a funding authorization.

H.R. 547 is expected to be before the full House within the next two weeks.

Resources:

Comments

An Engineer

More stunning stupidity from our elected officials.

We don't need an alternative CARRIER fuel, we need an alternative PRIMARY fuel. The easiest way to get there from here is to promote (waste) biomass gasification/Fischer-Tropsch. In other words, produce the same (liquid hydrocarbon) fuels we are used to, with no concerns about transportation, blending or even changing the existing fleet of vehicles. Simple, eh?

But who is going to have a sensible energy policy when there is PORK to be handed out? So off you go: Hydrogen! No, ethanol! No, methanol! No, biodiesel! No, butanol...

allen_xl_Z

An Engineer,
True, but why limit ourselves to the same old hydrocarbon chains? There are other chemicals that can be derived from syngas, that have superior combustion properties. We can have cleaner air, roughly equal energy density, and no fleet/transport compatibility issues. A few candidate 2nd gen biofuels are NExBTL (Neste Oil), "Green Diesel" and "Green Gasoline" (Honeywell).

_Further down the line, we can use the syngas to feed SOFC, or IGCC electric generation systems.

Roger Pham

Both of you guys are on track, but the simplest thing of all is to package the dry cellulosic biomass, transport it via trucks to each city and gasify it to produce H2 right on the spot and feed H2-capable vehicles as the biomass is being gasified in the same facility. The heat from gasification can be fed to SOFC for high-temp electrolysis using surplus wind or solar electricity. THe O2 released from electrolysis is then used to feed into the gasifier for more gasification. Waste heat will be fed to Sterling engines for electrical production. Nothing will be wasted and efficiency will be very high. Very low-cost H2 as fuel will be produced. The H2-vehicles will also be NG capable to extend its range even further, or where NG is available but H2 may not be. Coal gasification can also be substituted for biomass gasification if biomass shortage occurs, such in drought times or crop failure. Don't have to walk just because your crop didn't grow!

No need to build the "trillion dollars" H2 dispensing infrastructure as many have suggested. Just build one or two gasifiers per city, generally one gasififer every 100 square mile of urban area, and feed the H2-vehicles directly from the same facility. Rural area can run the same car on NG from pipeline. Why consider about ethanol, grain or cellulosic, or other potentially polluting synthetic fuels, which will be complex and energy-consuming to produce.

Larry

Ummm excuse me Engineer but what bill are you talking about. The article references HR 547 which says nothing about hydrogen or any of the other subjects but simply authorizes the Dept. of Energy to coordinate with NIST about additives to Utra Low Sulfer level diesel and BIO-fuels such as Ethanol, Bio-diesel, etc to make these newer fuels compatiable with our current fuel distribution system. It's not a comprehensive energy bill or complete revamp of the fuels distribution system, it's simply an authorization for a small piece of the action, and one that sort of looks to my neophyte eyes as a pretty good idea. So why the rant? Are you saying that you think we can rip out the entire infrastructure on a dime and build it compleatly new overnight? Using the existing system to phase over to newer fuels and making sure they don't rot out or destroy all the existing tanks, pipes, and other paraphenallia of fuels distribution seems like a good idea. I for one would hate to hear of a massive fuel spill along some pipeline of refining spot because newer blends of gasoline or diesel corroded the seals. I'm afraid your response confuses me. Please explain?

Harvey D.

Why do we have to spend so much resources to prolong the life of an inefficient unhealty carbon based transportation technology?

ICE vehicles have to be progressively replaced by BEVs even if we have to use interim HEVs and PHEVs for 10 to 20 years or until such time as on board storage units become more performant and cheaper.

All those biofuel plants will become redundant unless they can be converted to food production.

Now is the time to use much more resources to produce low cost high performance electrical energy storage units + clean electricity + higher capacity safer grids.

Lucas

BUT ... We needed alternative fuels yesterday. We are about as close to H2, fuel cells, etc as we are to fusion.

If we want to get transportation fuel before our politicians destroy our world, we are going to have to develop something that can be produced fairly soon and distributed by our existing infrastructure.

My choice is Biodiesel aided by alcohol.

Cervus

Harvey:

Your idea is still dependent on replacing a few hundred million vehicles already on the road with EVs, a process that will take many decades, even if the battery technology needed to make it practical for a reasonable cost comes along.

Carbon-neutral biofuels like butanol and algae-based biodiesel will make a much greater impact because there is already a huge market for them, regardless of the inefficiency of the ICE.

Roger Pham

Lucas,
You said: "...We are about as close to H2, fuel cell etc. as we are to fusion."

I'd say, we are about as close to H2/CH4-ICE-HEV technology as we are close to petroleum exhaustion. Ain't got time to fool around!

Harvey,
Your concern regarding obsolete biofuel plants is a valid one. My solution for this is the following:

For now, use a local in-town biomass or coal gasifier to produce syngas. This is coupled with a F/T synthetic module to produce liquid fuel for existing vehicle fleets, while save some H2 for more and more H2/CH4-capable vehicles that will roll out in the near future. Eventually, you will need more H2 and less liquid fuel, as the price of synthetic liquid fuel will always be higher than H2 per energy equivalent, so more people will choose H2/CH4-capable vehicles over liquid-fuel vehicles. The likes of CARB ZEV mandate in most heavily-populated areas will further assist in this regard. This will provide a very smooth transition from dirty liquid hydrocarbon fuels to ultra-clean H2 fuel.

To encourage more usage of synthetic biomass BTL and H2 fuel over petroleum, the biomass BTL fuel and H2 will not be taxed for a long time, while petroleum will be subjected to a gradually increasing tax rate. This will encourage Big Oil to invest more into BTL and H2 fuel production, while phasing out oil exploration, which will be increasing of low-yield anyway. This will prevent Big Oil from applying political pressures to oppose the transition to renewable fuel economy, because they will make just as much profit from BTL and H2 fuels as with petroleum.

The public, having affordable alternatives to petroleum, will not politically object to a gradual increase in petroleum tax, either. This is a win-win situation for all. More jobs will be created and the economy will experience a boom due to more investment in biofuel and H2 technology.

The day will come when most vehicles will be H2-capable, and liquid hydrocarbon can be phased out completely. This will happen gradually and will have no disrupting impact on the economy at all, while local air quality will be greatly improved, and the environment will no longer suffer from oil spills and carcinogens leaking into the water supply and wild life reserves.

Andrey

In 2004 total energy supply in US (electricity+heat+fuels) was as follows: oil – 40%, coal – 23%, NG – 23%, nuclear – 8%, renewables – 6%. For electricity generation coal was about 40% and nuclear about 20%.

Now the interesting part. From all renewables solar was 1%, wind 2%, geothermal 6%, hydroelectric 43%, and BIOMASS 47%.

Most of biomass was (and is) wood waste, used for heating and most of it – for co-firing in coal boilers (about 5-7% of total calorific input) to generate electricity. More than 20 US utilities use this technology.

Now, in some kind of the virtual world (where couple of posters definitely live), where 100% of electricity is produced by nukes/solar/wind and alike, and we desperately need to replace fossil transportation fuels by something renewable, their vastly inefficient biomass gasification projects would make sense.

In real world, where 40% of US electricity comes from coal, it is way simpler, cheaper, and more energy efficient to combust economically available biomass waste in existed coal plants and heating/steam installations, and gasify saved coal (or NG) into liquid transportation fuels. Actually, this is exactly what China is doing on ever increasing scale.

Angelo

Harvey,

"Carbon-neutral biofuels like butanol and algae-based biodiesel will make a much greater impact because there is already a huge market for them, regardless of the inefficiency of the ICE."

Completely agree with you. While everyone keeps debating over the long term solutions, we need to keep our focus on short term, actionable improvements as well.

There are still huge improvements that can be made to the ICE. We know we could improve the overall efficiency from around 30% to around 50% by utilizing HCCI in spark ignition engines and waste heat recovery in all engines (through mechanically-driven methods like BMW's Turbosteamer or more optimally, through the use of thermoelectrics).

Combining this drastic improvement in ICE efficiency with increased biofuel components of our different fuels, and complementing all of this with strategic use of hybrid technology (using mild-hybrids to full PHEVs where they make the most sense from a cost/benefit standpoint), we can buy ourselves a lot more time. Time we need to allow our R&D to find the best long term solutions, before we start rushing into large-scale implementations that don't make sense.

Mark A

Does this mean that they still have to create a MSDS standards, for these biofuels? If so, that could be a major problem in getting biodiesel and bioethanol all made to a rigorous standard formula. The EPA and OSHA are pretty strict in regulating chemicals and components. All chemicals must react and behave the same way, hence the MSDS standard. If a standard is not there, this will be a major hurdle to increasing biofuel's growth, if not spelling the end of their use.

Harvey D.

Angelo:

Pure (without the help of batteries or super-caps or FC) ICE vehicles have a well to wheel efficency of only 15% to 25% while overall GHG emission is still very high.

Overall efficiency could be improved up to three folds with better design, lighter vehicles and by increasing the electrical energy portion as done in HEVs, PHEVs and finally BEVs while similarly reducing GHG emission.

Biofuels may be acceptable as a limited time gap filler to replace liquid fossil fuel, reduce GHG, reduce imported Oil and maintain our existing 240 million ICE dinosaurs in operation for the next 20 years.

Eventually, we will have to accept a major evolution change from carbon based economy to clean electric energy economy. ICE vehicles + coal fueled power generating plants will be progressively replaced as were horses and buggies, coal home furnaces/stoves, coal fueled locomotives etc.

Humanity may not have the luxury of maintaining the status quo for many more generations. We have to change the way we do certain things, starting with ground transportation + production-usage of cleaner electric energy.

This is not a dream but plain reality. It is just another neccessary step forward.

Angelo

Understood - I was not quoting well-to-wheel efficiency. Only the ability for the ICE to turn the chemical energy into mechanical energy. Until we achieve near perfect combustion and stop wasting such vast amounts of energy through heat, I think there is still much room for the ICE to improve, before it outlives its usefulness.

wintermane

As has becomeobvius to ar makers there will be more then one fuel in 2030. ev h2 bio. A solid tripl.

Roger Pham

Andrey,
You said: "...their vastly-inefficient biomass gasification project would make sense."

Biomass gasification to BTL via F/T is considered to be 50%-100% more efficient than enzymatic conversion of cellulosic biomass to ethanol. If you would stop right H2 production, you would get even a lot higher efficiency.
Dutch researchers calculated that even with imported biomass transported overseas, BTL via F/T can result in diesel fuel at $2.65/gallon. They concluded that at crude oil price above $60/barrel, large-scale BTL would be competitive with petroleum. Look at the following link for details: http://www.greencarcongress.com/2006/09/dutch_researche.html#more

Look in GCC index at BTL topic for more info for Biomass to liquid conversion. There is nothing there that indicates BTL is "vastly-inefficient."

It is a sad fact that the majority of US electrical power is still produced from fossil fuel. However, the fact remain that only ~0.5% of desert area in the world is sufficient for electrical needs of the entire world at ~30% efficiency using solar thermal or concentrated PV technologies. Wind electricity and solar PV are fast growing than ever. The day will come when most of our electricity needs will come from renewable energy. It is not a matter of whether, it is just a matter of time! We simply won't have a choice in this regard, eventually.

The virtual worlds of caring, forward-looking, and inventive people of today will become the real world for the future generations, just as the virtual worlds of Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla etc. eventually became the real world for most of us!

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